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Studying Online: Study Skills

Overview of studying online

For most students, during university most of your sessions will be held in person. However, you may sometimes have to learn through recorded lectures and seminars. Additionally, you may need to collaborate online when doing group projects, and it's likely you will spend a good amount of time revising, researching, writing, and doing other activities off-campus.

Guide contents

The tabs of this guide will support you in studying online. The sections are organised as follows:

  • Learn from Recordings - Tips to maximise learning from recorded lectures, from prep to revision.
  • Learn Live - Expectations when attending live tutorials online, such as how to participate.
  • Take Notes - Suggestions for modifying your digital notemaking with apps and more.
  • Seek Support - Advice on how and where to seek support when learning online.
  • Collaborate - Logistical tips and best practices when working with groups online.
  • Your Library - A basic overview of how to use your library at a distance.
  • Technology - Signposting to training and resources you will need for online study.
  • Academic Integrity - Our top tips and guidance for working online with integrity.


When and where to watch

Work in Bed iconIn some cases, you will need to learn from recordings of lectures. The first thing to point out is that working from recordings means you actually have a lot more choice about when and where to watch your lectures. Embrace the difference! It is not better or worse, just different.

Top tip: For most people it will be best to watch your lectures during allocated 'work time' in a dedicated 'work space' in order to bring some structure to your day. See this article for tips on creating a productive study space.

Be distraction free

Home Office iconKeep your concentration and focus on the content by making your workspace as free of distraction as possible. The fact that you can pause the recording means that you are more likely to respond to a phone call or a notification than you would be at a live lecture.

Take breaks

Relax iconDon't watch back-to-back lectures. Take breaks after each one to stretch your legs and grab a drink or a snack. Staring at a computer for a long period of time can also strain your eyes so make sure you take breaks from looking at your screen to change your focal length and flex your eye muscles as well as your aching back.

Preparing to watch

Reading icon

There may be fewer opportunities to ask immediate questions, so give yourself a head-start and do a bit of preparation beforehand. There may be the opportunity to ask questions via the conversation box in Teams or Blackboard Collaborate. The best way is to read something related to the lecture topic before you watch the recording. Check to see if there are book chapters or articles that are relevant. Look back at your notes from the previous lecture, too – this lecture may build on that one.

Asking and answering questions

Can you answer your own question?

Ask Question icon When watching a lecture recording you are usually sat at a computer or using a smart device, and you have a world of information at your fingertips. If there are things you don't understand, write the question in your notes (perhaps with a big question mark before it so you can locate it easily afterwards). You can research anything you still don't understand afterwards. 

You could pause the recording and immediately look it up, but this is not really recommended as it can interrupt your concentration and the lecturer may explain it later anyway. Only do this if you think your lack of understanding is interfering with your ability to understand other parts of the lecture.

Use forums

FAQ iconMany modules will have chat forums set up within their Blackboard site. You can use this to ask questions of both your lecturer and other people on the module. This can be a great way of keeping in touch with your peers.

Top tip: Consider visiting such forums regularly even if you are not looking for answers – you may be able to give them and help out your peers!

Contact your lecturer

Email iconIf you still do not understand something or have follow up questions about the topic of the lecture, your lecturer is happy to answer these. Do not feel you are 'bothering' them. Some may have designated online 'office hours' where they guarantee to be online and monitoring their emails or any forums they have set up. If you need to ask a question, go ahead and contact them.

Note: We have more information about contacting lecturers in the 'Seek Support' tab of this guide.

After watching

Do something with your notes the next day

Arrow iconIf you don't revisit your notes within a day or two you will forget much of the content. Look over them and conduct activities to get you thinking actively rather than passively. For example, you might...

  • Highlight key phrases;
  • Illustrate notes with pictures;
  • Fill in any gaps;
  • Convert linear notes into a mind map.

Check for related material

Checklist iconWhilst it is still fairly fresh in your mind, why not do some reading around the topic? Your reading list may have links to e-books, digitised chapters of books, or related journal articles.

Succeeding as an online student

Studying at home? This article includes helpful tips for distance learning, as does the short video below. For a fuller dive into 'netiquette,' wellbeing, and more, check out this brief e-book on studying online [PDF].

Expectations when learning live online

Online teaching sessions delivered live can be divided up into two types: those where you can talk (and perhaps share video via your webcam) and those where you can't. 

Sessions where you can talk

Hand iconIn smaller group sessions, you may be given the option to enable your microphone and webcam and therefore be able to participate verbally. Some platforms have a hands up button that you can click on to show that you would like to contribute and whoever is hosting the session can give you the 'floor'.

You can also participate by typing into chat windows. These are the place to ask questions, share short thoughts and often links to web pages and documents. They are not automatically opened by some platforms, so look for the word 'chat' or an icon of a speech bubble or something similar.

Sessions where you cannot talk

Mute Unmute iconFor larger sessions, it becomes unwieldy if everyone has the ability to participate verbally and therefore this option may not be available. If this is the case, then your main way of contributing is via a chat window. As mentioned above, some platforms do not automatically display their chat windows so look out for the word 'chat' or an icon of a speech bubble or something similar.

The presenter may ask you for answers to particular questions which you need to type into the chat window, or you may want to use it to ask questions of the presenter.

If the presenter wants your opinion on something they could ask you to vote in a poll. These are usually anonymous.

Getting the most from a live online teaching session

Chat iconParticipate: It seems obvious but the whole point of a live session rather than a lecture recording is that you can get involved. So ask and answer questions and speak if you can.

Documents iconPrepare: Make sure you do any pre-reading. Even if you are not given anything specific, it may be worth checking reading lists or going online to see what you can find out about the topic.

Wait iconWait: There is often a time-lag or the presenter may be concentrating on something else, so if you ask a question in the chat window don't worry if there is a slight delay in it being answered.

Go Back iconWatch back: Many live sessions are recorded meaning you can watch them again. This can be a better time for taking notes as you are not being required to participate.

Ball Point Pen iconTake notes: As mentioned above, this can be easiest when you are looking back at a recording of the teaching session. Watch this note-taking tutorial for tips (UoS login required).

Succeeding as an online student

To succeed when studying at home, it helps to think through your personal learning environment and adjustments to your study skills. Check out these resources for support:

Making notes

Create Document icon‘Notetaking’ should actually be thought of as ‘note creating’ or 'notemaking'. This is because good notes are unique creations that represent your thinking, learning, understanding and questioning – all of which are active processes. In contrast, ‘taking notes’ that represent exactly what you have heard or have read are actually poor for learning as they are developed passively and this does not require much thought.

Try something new

Bang iconTry a method of notemaking you don’t usually use, perhaps because it normally takes too long – maybe something more visual like a mind map. Being able to pause recordings means you can have more time to keep up as you create these.

If you are taking notes digitally, consider including some screen shots of particularly important slides that you can then annotate.

Use timestamps

Stopwatch iconIncorporate timestamps into your notes (this just means noting how far the video is through when a particular topic is discussed). This will make it easier to go back and re-watch specific parts of it if you need to later.

Digital vs. paper

Note iconIf you currently use the traditional pen and paper method for creating notes, then you might like to consider the powerful benefits of using digital devices for notemaking.

  • Audio recording – The more popular notemaking apps allow users to playback their own notes, which is a great tool if you prefer to learn audibly. Additionally, you can record sound bites from your lectures, or even the entire lecture, to back up your notes. Some allow you to simultaneously take notes which sync with the audio recording, so you can replay sections of the lecture when reviewing your notes.
  • Simplified sharing – If you are involved in group work then digital notemaking simplifies the sharing process and means that you can't lose shared material. Notes can be shared for viewing and/or editing with the click of a button, and assuming they are saved to the cloud, it's pretty difficult to lose them.
  • Search functionality – Many notemaking apps enable you to search for keywords and phrases to quickly find information. Some apps even allow you to search your handwriting.

Apps for note creation

OneNote – Microsoft OneNote gathers users’ notes (handwritten or typed), drawings, screen clippings and audio commentaries. Notes can be shared with other OneNote users over the internet. OneNote is available for free to all University of Southampton students through Office 365 (see the 'Technology' tab section of this guide for more).

Google Keep – Google Keep allows users to make and save text notes, audio recordings, sketches, to-do-lists, and images. Keep is available on iOS and online. It is completely free to use and syncs across platforms; notes can easily be categorised, searched, and pinned.

Notability – If you want to combine the features of notemaking via keyboard apps with the inking capability of a sketch app, you might like to try Notability (available on the iPad, iPhone and Mac).

Evernote – Evernote allows you to create a note which can be a piece of formatted text, a full webpage or webpage except, a photograph, a voice memo, or a handwritten "ink" note. Notes can also have file attachments. Notes can be sorted into folders, tagged, annotated, edited, given comments, searched, and exported as part of a notebook.

Evernote supports a number of operating system platforms (including Mac, iOS, Chrome OS, Android, and Microsoft Windows) and also offers online synchronisation and backup services. It is available in a paid version or a more restricted free version.

Contacting lecturers directly

Communicate icon

Your course lecturers are here to help you. If you have any problems or issues with a module or assessment, then it is important to get in touch with your lecturer. You can often contact them directly via email, but do check your module's Blackboard page and any syllabus provided to verify your instructor's preferred contact method.

Top tip: Look out for the mention of live or digital 'office hours' on your module's Blackboard page and/or the syllabus. Office hours are timeframes your instructor sets aside specifically to converse with students about any learning questions or concerns – use the opportunity as needed!

Tools your lecturers may use

Classroom icon

The University provides several tools that your lecturers may use to get in touch with you and other people in a module. If you cannot see these tools, this may be because your lecturer has not enabled them. They may have a good reason for this, but feel free to get in touch and ask them. 

Blackboard Discussion Board

This works just like any other community forum or bulletin board. If enabled, it allows everyone to start a discussion thread that other students can then reply to. There are lots of ways this can be used in Blackboard, including structured discussions, Q&A and assessments. Students can create threads within each discussion forum which enables them to discuss topics with both their lecturers and their peers.

Live online teaching sessions (Panopto Live, Microsoft Teams, Blackboard Collaborate etc.)

Live teaching session are often interactive, allowing you to post chat messages, ask questions and participate in discussions.  Tips on how to get the best out of these sessions can be found in the 'Learn Live' tab of this guide.

Google Groups icon

Contacting peers

Blackboard's discussion boards (described above) are a great way of keeping in touch with your peers (the other people on your module). We also have a dedicated guide to collaborating online.

Some subjects run peer leading schemes where you can seek support and advice from fellow students. These sessions will often be in-person, but they may be supplemented by online Teams sessions, WhatsApp chat groups, or other means. Keep an eye out for what's available in your subject group!

Top tip: Why not partner up with a 'digital study buddy'? You can start your day by setting goals, and check-in with each other regularly to monitor progress.

Working in groups online

As part of your studies or assessment, you may be required to work in groups online. This page covers everything you need to get started with online collaboration and the software to support it. Even if you do not have group work, this guide will help you keep connected.

When working with others, it is important to understand that everyone will have different responsibilities and needs. Some people may have care, childcare and work to balance. You will need to consider these responsibilities when you arrange your meetings to ensure you are inclusive to everyone in your group.

The basics of meetings

When working collaboratively it is useful to have online meetings where you can make decisions, divide tasks and share progress. When choosing the style of meetings you want to use, you will need to decide between synchronous meetings and/or asynchronous meetings.

When deciding which to choose, you will need to consider everyone's availability. If you cannot find a time everyone is available, you may need to have your meeting asynchronously. The technology you choose will also depend on the equipment everyone has available. For example, you cannot use FaceTime unless everyone has an Apple product.

Top tip: Take minutes or notes for every group meeting you have – even if this is not required. It is a great way to record decisions, responsibilities and actions.

Asynchronous meetings

The term 'asynchronous meeting' means people won't attend at the same time, basically: everyone will contribute at different times. Other students in your group may have a preference for these kinds of asynchronous meetings, especially if they have work or caring commitments.

We would recommend Office 365 Teams which can be used on computers or mobile devices and is available to all University of Southampton students and staff. Office 365 is supported by iSolutions.

Alternative technologies such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage also support asynchronous meetings or conversations, but ensure everyone in your group has access to these and is comfortable using them before straying from options offered directly by the university.

The Blackboard discussion board is an example of an asynchronous conversation platform. A user may post a new thread (usually a question or statement calling for a response), and other users may then reply to that thread, creating a discussion. Find out more from this using a blackboard discussion board guide.

Synchronous meetings

'Synchronous meetings' mean you will all be logged in at the same time. As above, we would recommend Office 365 Teams because it is available to all University of Southampton students and staff.

To make the most of synchronous meetings, everyone will need speakers and/or headphones and a microphone. We recommend sharing webcams to make communication feel more natural and human. 

Blackboard Collaborate

Some of your modules may start using Blackboard Collaborate which is a real-time video conferencing tool integrated into every Blackboard course that lets you add files, share applications, and use a virtual whiteboard to interact. Collaborate opens right in your Chrome or Firefox browser, so you don’t have to install any software to join a session. It will work on phones and tablets without needing an additional app.

Scheduling meetings

Your university Outlook account is the easiest way to schedule for many people: just open the calendar, then create an event invitation with the Teams meeting option selected. You can also create meetings directly inside the calendar in Teams.

However, to find a time that everyone is free, you can also explore helpful tools such as Calendly or Doodle that let you compare schedules. They are designed to help everyone choose a convenient time, without the need for multiple messages or emails.

Further collaboration tips

Getting collaboration right

Just as with face to face collaboration, it is really important to communicate effectivelyprofessionally and with respect. You should ensure everyone in your group has a role, and takes responsibility for doing what is required. When decisions are made, you should record them and everyone in the group should stick to them. This Skills for Study module provides further information on managing group work and presentations (UoS log-in required).

Collaborative workspaces

If you are working on a project together, it can help to have a common space where you can all share files or work at the same time. We would recommend using Office 365 Teams which can be used on computers or mobile devices and is available to all University of Southampton students and staff; viewing and editing permissions on files can be shared via OneDrive.

Don't let collaboration become collusion 

As you settle in to studying and working online, it is important to remember that you still need to maintain your academic integrity at all times. It may be tempting (and all too easy) to share a copy of part or all of your work to help another student who tells you that that they are struggling with the same assignment but this would be considered as collusion not collaborating. See our 'Academic Integrity Online' tab for further advice and guidance.

Your library online

You don't need to visit the library physically to take advantage of its wide range of resources. When learning online, you can access e-books, journal articles, and other useful resources from your own device.

  • Library Search – You can find out more information on how to find print books, e-books, reading lists, and journal articles, as well as how to use your library account, on the UoS library's Library Search help page. Please email the library team at or start a Live Chat (during available hours) if you have any questions.
  • Subject databases – The library's Subject LibGuides bring together databases that enable you to find articles specifically for your subject. Use the 'Databases' or 'Journal Articles' tabs to access these.

Off-campus access

The library has produced a short video on accessing resources away from campus:

You can use the university's VPN service, Global Protect, for off-campus access to online resources. Visit the iSolutions help guide on installing the VPN to get started.

Note for NHS student users: If you are accessing University resources on an NHS placement, EZproxy and VPN (GlobalProtect) will not work with NHS firewalls, so please use your Institutional Login. Students on NHS courses, and NHS staff, will require an OpenAthens login to access some of their resources. Details of how to register for an account can be found on the library's OpenAthens page. 

Further training and resources

Online training/tutorials

Free e-book/journal collections

  • Directory of Open Access books – Academic books (many peer-reviewed) published on open access.
  • Internet Archive – Home to more than a million free texts.
  • OAPEN – Peer-reviewed academic books in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  • Project Gutenberg – Library of over 60,000 titles, mainly older literary works.
  • BookBoon – Free textbooks in the fields of IT, engineering, business and economic which have mainly been written by academic authors (registration required).
  • DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) – Community-curated site that provides access to high quality, open access, peer-reviewed journals.

Technology to study online

If you are used to studying on campus, you may need to get your computer ready for studying at home. This page will provide a few essential tips but, more importantly, signpost you to information and support provided by iSolutions.


A wide range of software is available for working away from campus. You can find a full list of software and installation instructions on the iSolutions 'Software for students' page.

Top tip: Most software is available for multiple operating systems, so choose the relevant OS filter (e.g. Mac, Windows, etc.) when navigating the options.

Office 365 includes essential apps for your studies, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneDrive, Teams, and more. These are free to UoS students and staff, so check out the iSolutions Office 365 page for details.

Getting your devices ready

Whenever you are taking part in an online lecture/seminar, it is important you get your device ready beforehand.

Download iconYou may have to download specific software, so check any information you have been sent beforehand. You may have to go to an app store to join with a mobile device.

Link iconDo instructions to join include a link to somewhere you can test your device? If so, this will allow you to check you can hear and see everything OK well before you have to do it for real.

Headphones iconMake sure the device you are using has speakers or that you can attach headphones. Check these are enabled and you have not muted them.

Smartphone Tablet iconWhilst it is often possible to follow a teaching session on your phone, you may find it harder to type into chat windows – so see if you can get access to a laptop or a tablet.

Calendar iconIf you use an online calendar, add the teaching session in as an event and put the link you are sent into the location or the notes section.

Further training and support

  • Building Digital Capabilities – This site connects you to tools to assess your digital skills and training to develop both general or specialist digital skills.
  • iSolutions Digital Learning – This page offers paths to LinkedIn Learning modules, IT training A-Z, eLearning platform support guides, FutureLearn courses, and more.

As you settle in to studying and working online it is important to remember that you still need to adhere to the University's Academic Integrity regulations to ensure that your academic results remain accurate and meaningful.

The resources on this page are provided to help you work with integrity in situations where you are studying and being assessed online.

What is academic integrity?

The advice on our what is academic integrity guide is still relevant when you are completing your studies online. It explains what are breaches of academic integrity and shows you the steps you can take to avoid making them.

Citing and referencing online sources

This video gives you a quick overview of referencing online sources such as e-books, online journals and webpages. You can get more detailed advice and examples of how to cite and reference sources in your work from our citing and referencing guide.

A text-only version of the contents of the video is available: Referencing and citing online sources [WORD]

What support is there for academic integrity?

Sources of help, support and guidance remain open and accessible for you online and you can contact the following for advice on all aspects of academic integrity:

Understanding academic integrity regulations

See the Academic Integrity (AI) Regulations document to find out more about academic integrity, good practice and your responsibilities.

The SUSU 'Academic Support' site has guides to help you understand what to expect should an allegation of an academic integrity breach arise.

Top tips for good academic practice

  1. Avoid plagiarism. When quoting, paraphrasing or summarising, you must always acknowledge the original source of information by citing and referencing. Take the 'Referencing and avoiding plagiarism' online course to develop your skills and knowledge.
  2. Record where you obtained your information from. Making a record via a source evaluation table or annotated bibliography may help to save time and confusion during the write-up.
  3. Manage your time well. The temptation to cheat or take shortcuts can often be the result of poor time management. Use our Assignment Planner or another means to plan out your approach to assessments.
  4. Avoid collusion with fellow students. Always submit original work that you have produced. Do not write anything for a fellow student, and don't allow them to write anything for you.
  5. Steer clear of generative artificial intelligence. ChatGPT and other generative AI apps are forbidden unless your instructor gives explicit permission to use them. Spell-check and grammar-check features of standard writing software like Word are normally fine, but avoid apps that produce content when prompted.
  6. Plan and cooperate when working in groups. For group work, you should take notes at your meetings, record the contributions of individual group members, and create a schedule that allows you and your group to monitor the progress of the project.
  7. Read your assignment brief carefully. This is particularly vital when some group work is involved. It should clearly state when to work independently and when to work as a group, but if you are unsure of the expectations, clarify these with your instructor well in advance.
  8. If you’re unsure about anything to do with academic integrity, just ask! You can ask your Personal Academic Tutor and/or your lecturer. The Academic Skills Service and/or the Library can help you, too, depending on the nature of your enquiry.

Acknowledgement (click to read more...)

Creative Commons License  'Skills for studying online'. Our pages are a derivative of  Remote learning SkillsGuide available at licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. We thank the generosity of the University of Hull Library for providing a CC BY-NC-SA licence and under the terms provide the same licence for our pages.